Joyce Brewer

When Joyce Brewer walked away from the news desk as lead anchor for WAPT-TV, in Jackson Mississippi, she was apprehensive on what the future held in store for her. Yet, in hindsight, if the Hofstra University grads decision to continue pursue the unknown in Atlanta, GA was to mirror the success of her past, then she had little to worry about.

The Emmy Award- Winning TV journalist, embodies the definition of jack of all trades. Brewer’s audacious nature for success has taken her from reporting and anchoring at TV stations in Columbia, Missouri; Youngstown, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri, Jackson, Mississippi, and Atlanta, Georgia. Her work has been featured on Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, and she was also a guest on, The View. In addition, her resume continues with teaching at the collegiate level, publishing an E-Book, digital media consultant, M.A. from the University of Missouri, and most recently the creator and host of an online parenting show, MommyTalkShow. 

At BWIB, we were fascinated and enthralled by the journalist who has forged her own path by creating new avenues to fulfill her childhood desire for story-telling. Brewer’s story can serve as inspiration for emerging journalists who are attempting to find their footing in the journalism industry, as well as seasoned veterans who are seeking the encouragement to take a chance at new opportunities veering from the norm and straying from their comfort zone.  Read more to find out on life after TV news and how Brewer is able to combine her role as a mother and wife with her passion for journalism.

Q.What influenced your desire to pursue journalism? 

I pursued journalism because I’ve always been nosy, according to my parents. My parents are avid news hounds. We watched news magazines like 60 minutes every week and read several New York City newspapers.

Q. When you decided to go into broadcast were there any obstacles that you thought your would encounter? What made you decide to keep pushing forward? 

When I started in TV in the 90′s there were a number of black women on local TV news, in New York so I had exposure to them. But you always kind of glamorize what you think the job will be like. I didn’t know what we were really dealing with until I got my own job and saw [what] could come along behind the glamor when the cameras are off.  So the thing that was enlightening to me is that it was more when I got to grad school and that I started researching women who had been in journalism, like Ida B. Wells and Charlene Hunter- Gault, to see what they had gone through just to break stories and go to school. Charlene Hunter Gault integrated University of Georgia, but I didn’t hear about her when I was in high school or undergrad. I didn’t hear about these people until I went to graduate school.

Q. Were there any mentors who you were able to receive direction from? 

In undergrad I definitely had to do it by myself it wasn’t until I got to [grad school]…I don’t think I even heard about National Association of Black Journalists until I went to graduate school and started doing some research and it helped that I had a local NABJ chapter. In undergrad I definitely did not have a mentor, so to speak, I belonged to one journalism association for students and we did a couple of things like trips and going to conferences. But, in terms of a woman that I could really ask questions about what my career path should be and what the possibilities were. I didn’t have that in journalism when I was in undergrad. More in grad school because I found out about NABJ, I had more black professors in journalism that could share things with me.

And just being surrounded by more black students who were more focused. Not to say that people are not focused in undergrad but when you make that commitment to go to grad school you are taking on something a lot more serious. So I was able to have that resource of being around people who were more focused.

Q. Your career took you from Missouri, Ohio, Kansas City, and Jackson Mississippi, can you talk about your memorable experiences what you thought you brought to the table as a black woman in those reporting situations?

Each of them was different, and when I was in Youngtown, even though the city was 70 percent black and 30 percent white, that was not necessarily reflected on air. I was one of two reporters at the NBC station and there was always this expectation that they always had to have two [black women]. So when I left they hired another black girl, it was almost like a quota system.

With that being my first job, I really didn’t shake things up too much or really focus on that much of African-American coverage maybe a little bit, but not as much as when I went to Missouri.

When I was there in Missouri, the first time for grad school, I did a graduate project on using minority sources in everyday news stories; not just stories that were about crime or sports. My graduate work my last 6 months of being there was focused on making sure we had a minority source list. Making sure we could we find an expert who was African-American, a female expert, a Latino expert, who is just as good but making sure minority voices were not just seen in stereotypical stories.

Then when I went back to teach at the University of Missouri, I was still reporting occasionally. At the same time I was teaching full- time but on weekends I would go to Kansas City and freelance.

One of the stories that I got an Associate Press award for in Missouri, was right after 9-11. I did a story about African-Americans and patriotism. There were so many people who had their flags, everything was, “Made in America.” And the African-Americans that I found were like, “Yes I’m patriotic, but my patriotism is in what I do not in what I wear.” I interviewed someone who was in the military and he was like, “Yea I’m patriotic but that’s in my service or I’m patriotic by volunteering or I’m patriotic by working in my community. Because all the flags you don’t see all of those things around now. That doesn’t last but the things that you’re doing that invest in your community really do.”

Now in Jackson, I was there 7 years and I was the main anchor but I definitely had developed my own voice and had a distinct idea of what I thought news was, but I was also in a state and in a city that was a hotbed for racial issues so anything could be spun into race unfortunately. I probably did one of the first local stories ever done about the “Down Low” and interviewed J.L. King before he was on Oprah and to do a story like that in Mississippi where everyone is sexually repressed to begin with even about hetero sex! Here I am talking about black men being bisexual, being secretive with it. Doing stories like that and doing stories about people being concerned that the red light cameras were designed to catch black people because they were in some of the well-traveled areas where black people were. So as my voice evolved a lot more I got more experience.

It’s hard to go in when you got your first job and say well we’re going to do a story about this and a story about that. You kind of got to sit and figure things out. I think I was still figuring out who I was by the time I was able to tell the stories, now what I do with MommyTalkShowit’s vastly different. I don’t even blog about being a black mom, I don’t talk about being a black mom my blog is not a black mom blog. I happen to be a black mom who blogs but I do not talk about those things or my feelings or being a black mom on my blog. I just haven’t approached that yet and I don’t know if I will or when I will.

Q. You transitioned from being the head anchor in Jackson Mississippi, how did you make that shift and why did you feel the need to make that switch?

When I left Jackson I was burned out and stressed out, my contract was up my then boyfriend had moved from Jackson, MS to Atlanta, GA. My husband is a promotions producer at a local station in Atlanta, so the timing was just right, my contract is up! my man is gone! so I moved here!

We got engaged married, and pregnant all within 3 months of 2009. So we got engaged in April, married in May, and by July I was pregnant. So I was here…I knew I didn’t want to go back to get a full-time job, but I was here and I was pregnant so nobody was going to hire me anyway. So when my son was about 9 months old. I had the idea for a couple of fun things, but what if I could do a talk show? What if I could answer the questions that new moms, especially new moms of Atlanta want to know? How can I find it? Where can I go? and then I wanted to monetize it with the videos, by telling businesses well you know I can bring moms here,  we can do videos about you. We can talk about you. Things like that so that’s how I monetized it. And my goal was not to have to answer to anybody, and not to have to put my son in daycare full time. So I’m able to work from home, work when he’s sleep, or like tonight I went an event for a friend who had a book signing and I just had a sitter who stayed home with him for a little while. But those opportunities, appearances like that are infrequent they are not what they were when I was an anchoring, but I’m able to kind of do it all and balance things a little bit better with a 3 year old.

Q. What words of advice do you have for those who are new in the industry to get through that first job?

When people used to say, “Oh your first job is for making mistakes and doing this and doing that.” And I’d say really making mistakes? But you are going to make a TON of mistakes in your first job and hopefully it will be in a market and you will be surrounded by people who will allow you to grow into those mistakes. Your boss and your supervisor will have higher expectations for you as you go along in your career. So think about the kid who was in North Dakota who just dropped a curse word. I’ve never done anything like that, but unfortunately that’s what happens in your first job. You may get someone’s name wrong or call someone or make an error or a mistake and unfortunately that does happen in first jobs.

Q. What’s a way to avoid newsroom politics and make sure you stay grounded and focused.

I think having friends outside of news whether you’re in TV, radio or newspaper having friends who do not work in the industry is one of the ways that helped me stay grounded. When you’re in the newsroom that’s all you talk about is work work work work, and you need other friends that you can talk to them about other things that are not related to news.

Q. What’s been the highlight of your career thus far? 

Writing my E-Book, was telling the stories of moms who started businesses. I think it was just something that I was proud of. When I started my blog I never had the intention of writing a book, but I found that when people keep asking you the same questions that’s a great opportunity to create an informational product. I didn’t need to go to a publisher, I didn’t need to have anyone approve me, I didn’t have to do all these things. I was able to do it on my on and giving a voice to those moms and giving a voice to so many women who are looking for solutions. Looking for flexibility in their lives. Maybe they don’t want to put their child in daycare – or maybe they have a child with a learning disability and they need to be there for them more. So giving a voice to that, giving a voice to moms who are looking for those solutions. Writing that book has been the highlight for me over the last almost 3 years.

[To purchase “Use What You Know: A Business Idea Guide for Moms” click here] 

Q. You’ve broken the rules in your career and its paid off, what advice would you give to journalists who are told to stick to one straight path?

With the internet no one is tied to any one thing anymore. You have newspaper reporters who do podcast, and you have radio journalists who do video it all just melts in together now. Everything is about information and being accessible. People can download people can access. So if you look at the average newspaper they’re putting video on their website, they are trying to do what TV is doing. I think that its going to be harder and harder to distinguish one form of media over the others. So if anything being well versed in everything is going to make you more marketable.

[End of Q and A]

By: Brittany Vickers

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Tuwanda Coleman

Tuwanda Coleman

After four years of journalism courses at Western Kentucky University, Tuwanda Coleman walked into her advisers’ office firmly declaring she no longer wished to pursue a career as a reporter.

“I just knew that I was really a soft-hearted person and hard news scared me a little bit,” Coleman says.

Although Coleman no longer wished to be in front of the camera, she still maintained her passion for television and news. So when the opportunity arose to work as a camera person, Coleman jumped to it. Accepting the position two weeks after graduation, Coleman became the first female, and first African American, camera person at News Channel 5 in Nashville, Tenn.

The Kentucky native’s engaging work propelled her to continually receive offers to take on additional roles. And 30 years later, Coleman remains with News Channel 5, where she currently produces and field reports for Nashville’s highly rated talk show, “Talk Of The Town.” She also hosts “The Plus Side of Nashville” and “Taste of The Town,” produces telethons, and serves as internship coordinator for her department.

For Coleman, her path in the broadcast industry was unlike many others. But her college adviser saw something special in the graduating senior who at the last minute decided to not pursue reporting. Let her story be an illustration to all of those who are not exactly sure what direction they want their career to go in, but have a passion for television. Take the time to do a little bit of everything, and see where your talents fit best, and where you can make the most impact.

The Emmy-nominated journalist continues to take on a variety of positions not only within NewsChannel 5, but also in the Nashville community as well. Tuwanda lends her to support to numerous boards and organizations, including the Oasis Center, the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences, YMCA Black Achievers, Nashville Film Festival, Nashville Parent Magazine Advisory Board, the American Red Cross Public Relations Board, and Youth About Business. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Coleman, through her energetic and ambitious attitude continues to motivate another generation of journalist to pursue the field, which has kept a mile-wide smile on her face for 30 years.

BWIB was honored to speak with a staple personality in the Nashville community. Read about how she has transitioned and excelled at a number of positions and learn what keeps her going as a Black Woman in Broadcast.

You were the first female, African American cameraperson at News Channel 5. What was that experience like?

I was working with much older men, many of them in their 30s at the time and I was 22…men in their late 40s, 50s, then you got this fresh out of college girl who just got a degree. Most of them did not have degrees so some of them resented me. And I was a little bit of a token, because here I come with no experience whatsoever. But I had a college degree and I was African American and so they kind of felt like I was a token and perhaps I was, but if I did not meet the requirements as far as qualifications for the job I would not have gotten the job.

You constantly took on new positions. Why was that, and what made you decide ultimately to go into producing?

I applied for the position as a camera person and that was to primarily get my foot in the door…. I was a camera person, I did that for 10 years, and while I was there I just started looking at all the other jobs. I was seeing what producers did, what directors did. I saw that my skill set did best as a producer, because I do like to write, but I like to write at my own pace versus hard news. [With] “Talk of the Town,” it was the way that I could write but it was not hard news and that is why I aspired to be a producer on “Talk of the Town.”

In the beginning stages of your career were there any other black producers that you were able to go to for mentorship?

When I first started working here, I became friends with Henrietta [Insert Last Name], who was the producer on “Talk of the Town” and I used to ask her about my writing skills and they improved the more I [used] them. It’s like anything else. The more you do it the better you get at it. But at the time I had no black female mentors [as a camera person]. I got the chance to work with Henrietta and she kind of helped me learn the ropes, having not ever produced for a talk show before. But shortly after I started, Henrietta quit and I was kind of left once again on my own trying to figure these things out and I didn’t have a mentor at that time. I had to draw form within and watch others, quietly see how they went about their jobs and then I would pick up from this person and pick up from that person to become the producer that I am today.

How did you advance to your position as producer for “Talk of the Town?”

As a camera person, whenever there were special projects I would get the opportunity to write. I also got the chance to do black history salute and they turned that over to me after they saw that I had pretty good writing skills, and that I could do the job. And I had the chance to do black history salute every February; I wrote the research the pictures and everything behind that.

Then, a company came in, bought the station and said, “We believe in hiring from within; we want to find out what everybody’s goal is.” I told them I wanted to be a “Talk of the Town” producer and so they basically created a position for me. And I really feel like if they [saw] that every task that I had been given prior that I did a great job with. I also had a great attitude, there were so many things that went into getting me that opportunity to be an associate producer for “Talk of the Town” because they created that position for me and they said if you do good with this we will make you a full time producer.

As a producer how do you make sure to include guests that reflect the entire, diverse Nashville community?

That is something that has been in front of my face for a while because if I don’t think of it no one else will think of it. We unfortunately sometimes get to booking guests and then we start to realize, you know, that we have not had anyone of color on the show in a month. It just kinds of happens and we start booking and filling holes then it’s up to us as producers to seek out people of color and often what I’ll do is I will get people who are referred to me, sometimes I will just look in the community or I will try to bring back a guest who was really good on the show and see if they can do other things. So there have been opportunities where I can include regulars on the show who are people of color so we know they will be on at least once a month so that’s kind of been my way of doing. As the only person of color on the staff it’s often left up to me because if I don’t see it, it does not seem like anyone else will see it.

Additionally, whenever we have models we definitely let the guest know that we want models of diverse background, color, shape—all races and backgrounds. We definitely stress that when guests bring on models, whether it’s for a segment on hair, make-up or fashion we definitely stress that. Unfortunately I had the two, three, maybe four or five times where people say no to me. Who I know will be great guests on the show but don’t want the opportunity, which is often unfortunate I think because it looks as if we are not seeking them out although we are. And they pass over that opportunity and for me that is very frustrating when you give someone an opportunity to have basically a free four-minute commercial to plug their business or whatever it is they do and they don’t accept it.

How did you make the transition from being behind the camera to being in front of the camera?

I was given the position not like a traditional reporter. How my position came about ironically, I was getting ready to go on vacation when the station was going to be holding our annual anniversary. I was going to be getting my 20th anniversary award but I was not able to be there and the station manager asked would I mind doing something on tape and I said absolutely I would be happy to.

So off the top of my head I sat in front of the camera and started out on why I wished I could be there … and how I loved working at the station and my station manager saw me on camera and she thought that I was a natural. She said I looked great and sounded well and basically gave me the opportunity at that point to think about [being on camera]. She said there was no pressure but if you don’t feel like that’s something you want to do you don’t have to do. But I thought about it long and hard and decided it was something that I wanted to do and that’s where I am.

What would you say to others who don’t necessarily start off in on-camera positions?

It is something that I cannot stress enough to other young women who want to go into television: you have to start somewhere and often that is not at the top. There is such a thing as being realistic about journalism and television. You’re going to be able to start at a smaller TV station, a smaller market. You’re going to be able to go there and make your mistakes and not have 500,000 people looking at you and may only have 2,500 people looking at you or 30,000 but you can make your mistakes there. You’re going to be doing a lot of jobs and you’re going to be able to get good at all those jobs.

But often I think we get a little bit anxious to start making money and want to immediately be in front of the camera and we do not want to take the time to sort of pay our dues. But at the same time it’s going to make you a better reporter, producer, whatever, because you’re going to be able to slowly work your way up and get better at everything.

So be patient and know that you are honing your craft when you first start off; you are getting better at writing, and better at being in front of a live audience, and you are going to make some mistakes. But that’s natural and that’s expected in a small market so by the time you get to a bigger market you would have already made those mistakes.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in your career that related specifically to being a black woman in broadcast?

There have been a few occasions when I worked with clients of the show who had expected someone other than myself and they showed it in the way they acted. Fortunately, I had a station that sort of severed the ties because of the way they treated me. So I’ve had that more than anything, the public as a whole versus the place where I work. were very supportive but Sometimes you go out in public and you’re trying to get people who may not be expecting the reporter to be a person of color; they were maybe expecting someone else. And you get really a bad feeling with it; I don’t think I have ever felt so belittled and shocked. I was very proud of how my station handled it when I went back and told them that the person really wanted to work with another reporter and basically they cancelled the account with that person and refused to work with that company. Since this is my first and only job as a reporter, I have not had to go to another market but sometimes it’s experiences like that, which basically reminded me of my color.

What advice would you give to other women who are considering pursuing journalism?

I would definitely say, read, work on English and writing skills particularly if you’re interested in being a reporter. As a reporter that’s what you do all day, you write and you have to articulate what it is that you’ve written. Also you have to pitch stories so you have to read the newspaper and keep up with current events. I think a lot of people think, “Well as a reporter I will go in and the assistant editor will give me a story to cover.” Well there may be those days. But then also our reporters are required to bring in four to five ideas of their own so that means you have to keep up with what is going on in the community.

It is so disheartening when I hear young people say, “Well I don’t really watch the news.” You want to be on it but you don’t watch it? How is that? It’s the career you want to be a part of but you don’t actively participate in seeing how it’s done?

This business is changing and it’s one of those things as the years go by more and more people are turning to social media and getting ideas from the Internet versus the newspaper, which has fallen by the way.

However, you get your information, stay on top of current events and know a little something about your state government. That’s a little piece of advice an adviser gave me years ago. As a reporter you may be asked to cover politics one day, and you may be sent out to cover a government story another day; you need to know a little something about everything and talk intelligibly about it. So make sure you follow political arenas and you keep up with how government is run because otherwise how are you going to go out and be a reporter? You can’t go out and gather the facts and convey them back to us intelligibly because you don’t even know them yourself. So know a little something about everything, keep up with current events, become a news junkie, so if someone asks you who is the Prime Minister of France you’re going to know.

[End of Q & A]

Daryl Kirkland- Morgan

Daryl Kirkland Morgan 13abc

By the time she reached high school, Daryl Kirkland- Morgan had set her aspirations on becoming a broadcast journalist. And why not? Growing up in Detroit Michigan, when Daryl flipped on her local news she was able to see a diverse array of journalists, including many that looked like her. This exposure to black women in broadcast sparked her desire to one day also fill that anchor seat.

Hard work, perseverance, and a passion for news were all key ingredients, which helped the University of Missouri graduate, land her first position in Elmira, New York at WENY-TV News. In that position she did everything from anchoring and producing the 11 o’clock newscast, to reporting daily stories and even filling in on the weather desk. That position helped her to become a jack of all trades in the newsroom, giving her the opportunity to refine her skills and grow as a journalist. Kirkland-Morgan currently resides in Toledo, Ohio as a reporter and assignment desk editor for 13abc. Although she had the key ingredients which have helped her launch her career, she credits a conversation with legendary WXYZ anchor, Diana Lewis, which gave her the confidence to catapult her desire for success in the broadcast industry, and turn her dreams into reality.

BWIB was delighted to speak with the up-and-coming journalist who has already solidified herself in the Toledo community as a journalist who believes in being fair and balanced to the people and places she covers. Read more to find out about the conversation that changed her life, and what keeps her going as a Black Woman in Broadcast.

Growing up you had a passion for storytelling.. how did those experiences lead you to pursue journalism as opposed to another field like writing or communications?

Journalism really captivated me…I wasn’t exposed to other fields as early as I was with journalism. When I was in 8th grade, I took my first journalism course and I went down to the newspaper and I went down to see my to my local TV station and I just thought it was the coolest thing. I wasn’t sure at the time which one I wanted to do and the more I went on. The more I got fielded into television news. So I think for me it was exposure. I was exposed to journalism much more earlier than PR [public relations] people or marketing or any other publicity or writing job. I just thought, “Wow those people look really professional, they are doing a service to the community.” That’s basically what I have had in my head since I was 13 years old.

 Growing up did you have anchors or local black reporters who you were able to look up to and say this is what I want to do?

There was actually one woman and her name is Dianna Lewis, she is an anchor and she’s been there for over 30 years, at Channel 7 WXYZ, Detroit. I was very fortunate coming from Detroit that there were a lot of faces that looked like mine on television a lot of places you come from that’s not the situation. But in a major market like Detroit, you’re going to see some men and women who are brown and just different colors.

I was fortunate to be able to meet her when I was about 15 or 16. I went to her station one day, and­­ she was there and of course you have the celebrity feeling and you’re like, “Ooooo!” So the woman who was there who I also looked up to, was the news director at the time, who was also another African American female. She brought me in and introduced me, and when I got to meet Diane Lewis, I was a little nervous and I was only 15 and I told her, “My name is Daryl, and I’ve been interested in this since high school and I really really wanted to do this.”

She looked at me and said, “You’re going to do it! I see something special in you. I don’t say this to everyone but I really do believe you have a gift..and I’ll be sitting at home one day in my nursing home and I’ll see you on TV”

I started crying and I couldn’t believe it. She had just met me for 5 minutes and she was speaking so much vision into my life and I got home and wrote her a letter and saying thank you for saying these things. I really appreciate it. She called me the next day at my house, we were having dinner and she called me…and she said, “Now remember what I said Daryl you’re going to do this. You gotta stick with it.” So whenever I feel like I can’t do it… I remember that moment at 15 and it was only 2 or 3 minutes, but it made a lifetime of difference.

Mentoring and accessibility to mentors can have a profound impact. Talk about the effect that mentors had on you in your career.

A. Mentors were very important to me… I had one who really  sticks out. She was Crystal Hillard, she was from Michigan and I actually met her in Michigan before I met her at the University of Missouri. Crystal, just whatever she did she took me along with her, if I asked her or if I didn’t ask her. She really had that mentality of helping someone else out. I went with her when she was just a PA [production assistant] at KOMU, [NBC affiliate in Columbia, Missouri]…she would prompt, turn video, the PA job that is essential to every news station. She also wanted to do reporting but she had not gotten there yet. But, that kind of showed me what you needed to do.

I’ve never been unrealistic with my goals. I meet so many people who really just want to go straight to “Good Morning America” and they are not willing to be a PA somewhere or run a live shot in a small market. But in another look you might be that one who goes straight to the top! I’m not saying it won’t happen but if you’re not willing to do the work before you get there. It has nothing to do with talent or hard work its just the way the industry is… so she kind of revealed to me that side. That you don’t just walk in on camera…you work your way up she took me through her life held my hand and she was a black woman to look up to.

What made you decide to go the University of Missouri to study journalism?

When we were on family vacations over the summer while we were there we would see a college or a university every vacation since I was about 10 years old. It could be an Ivy league, a Historically Black College/University, a state school we were somewhere they exposed us to different colleges. So I knew when I was very young that I wanted to go away to school that was important to me. It didn’t matter to me where it was, but even though it was in a small community I knew I wanted to be an AKA. There are different things that led [me] to Mizzou (University of Missouri) besides the journalism school. I met someone in my community before I went to Mizzou, he was a reporter and he said, “Look if you want to be a journalist you have to go to Mizzou.” I was looking at several schools I was looking at Northwestern, Howard, University of Miami, Ohio State several places that were known for having a decent broadcast program. And he said, “If you get in you have to go.” So I got in I got a great scholarship so it really was a no- brainer.

 When you first began reporting did you have any preconceived notions on what your experience would be like as a Black female reporter? 

I think with every minority reporter or producer, any one probably most work places…I’ve just worked in newsrooms so that’s all I know. But I think that there is something that we are taught…you work harder. I can’t say that in any of my newsrooms I felt targeted because I was black. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but I’ve been fortunate to work in just two so far. I’m still young in my career where I really don’t feel different because of my skin color.

What I will say is…pay attention to the stories that you cover a lot of times in news they will cover a lot of crime and a lot of it are people of color that are apart of these crime stories. In a larger city there’s a larger urban core, there’s more black people in the city and there’s more crime in the city. So there are a lot of people that talk about being in urban Toledo, and how bad things are. You kind of get into the defense mode and even though I don’t live in that community and I’m not even from that community I see faces that look like mine in the community, and automatically I kind of defend them. I say look you can’t paint everyone with such a broad brush.

People live in different communities yes there are bad apples wherever you go I don’t care if its urban or rural and sometimes I make those connections for people because a lot of times people in big cities. Because I worked in a smaller place before I came to Toledo, I’ve seen a lot of the same things to happen in what people consider the ghetto that happens in the country. Drugs are a problem in rural communities, hunger is a problem in rural communities and housing is a problem in rural communities. Because a lot of people are not exposed to that they only assume that these are things minorities deal with these are things that they deal with in bigger cities. No, they are things that poor people deal with and that’s different.

So I think that’s been the hardest thing not so much coming into the newsroom and feeling like I’m      targeted or I’m any different than anyone else…Its about paying attention to the story you cover trying to find different kind of stories in different areas. If its an area that’s always getting just crime crime crime crime I really try my hardest to find something positive there. Every community I don’t care where you are there are positive and negative stories your job as a journalist is to find them. Whether or not my pitch is accepted is a different thing, but at least I can try to throw it out there and say look, “Lets look at both sides lets not paint this community with one broad brush,” but I think that’s been the hardest thing to try to deal with that as an African American female not so much being in the newsroom but watching what kind of stories you cover.

You recently transitioned from markets from Elmira, NY to Toledo Ohio, and in an article discussing your arrival there were several welcoming comments. One person commented,  ”I like the new reporter…and another added on… ”I do to just something about her makes news worth watching.” What’s that feeling like for you to be a newcomer and already have an audience that’s excited and ready to receive you in their community. 

A. Obviously it makes me feel extremely blessed it puts a smile on my face, I was very fortunate. The next thing is, with a sorority you get kind of tapped early on. For me being a member of AKA has allowed me to step into a community and already have friends, already have a support base. As soon as I got here I was fortunate to have another soror in my newsroom. She sent out emails and literally within 5 minutes she had written on her Facebook wall, “This is a new reporter to the area…go like her personality page on Facebook and just welcome her.” I think I had a hundred people at least that day who was added, just because she said it and she holds so much weight in the community. So it means a lot however, I try not to take it too much because inevitably I’m going to do something that people don’t like and you have to really have your own compass. Don’t get me wrong when I read it, I love it! It makes me feel good! Gives me a warm fuzzy feelings. But I try not to rely on it because there is going to on the flip side, if I do a story one day that people are not going to like. They’re not going to  think I did a great job or they are not going to be in my corner. So for me you have to really, face your core when you’re in this industry especially television because if you really start to let other people define you it will get completely out of control. I’ve seen it in a lot of situations, but I’m glad to have it I appreciate it, but I don’t dwell on that at the end of the day. I have to keep it up. I still have to know who I am and what my job is.

You were the only black female at your previous station…what effect do you think that had on the community?

A. At the time I was there I was [the only] black , female reporter, and there was another one who was on the competitor station, Brittany Smallwood, and she anchored the morning and I anchored the night.  People would stop me on the street, they would say you don’t know what you’re doing for our little girls because we don’t usually have black reporters, black anchors on our station. My market was very small, so the people didn’t stay there very long, it’s a starter market once you got your experience you moved on and they were used to that. But there weren’t that many African American faces that came on the air even though African Americans made up a lot of the population in Elmira. So they said, “Its positive for our young ladies to see someone professional, speaking correct English, just someone who looks like them.”

So I don’t think I truly understood the impact that it made, not that I was there for 20 years I just think its exposure. If someone sees me doing it they say, “I can do it,” because that’s what happened to me. I saw Dianna Lewis doing it, I saw Belinda Lewis doing it, I saw the news director, Andrea Taylor doing it. I saw all these women who looked like me doing their job. It wasn’t so much that they did anything special it was just you could relate to what you see. So I hope more than anything some girl might see me and its not so much that she wants to be a journalist or anything else but it opened another door where she thought, “Hey if she can do it I can do it.” Because that’s how I’m here, I’m standing on the shoulders of other women. Its nothing, and not that I’m downing myself, but its nothing inherently special about me it’s the fact that I saw someone else doing it, people helped me along the way, and I worked extremely hard and I don’t really give up. I think between those three things, it opened a lot of doors and that’s why I am where I am. So that’s what I’m hoping that maybe some girl saw me, and says, “Wow! That never occurred to me, but she’s my complexion, she kinda looks like me that might be something I could do one day.

What words of advice would you give to young journalists considering pursuing this industry?

A. I would definitely tell them don’t be afraid to be the only black person in the newsroom. They need us in the newsroom, just like they need Native American journalists, they need more Latina journalists, more Asian journalists they need more everything. So don’t be afraid to be that only person.

To every young journalists… I started off somewhere small it was a year and a half of my life and it was so much that I wouldn’t have learned somewhere else bigger. I was anchoring 5 days a week, which is rare, I did reporting 4 days a week, I produced one day a week, I shot my own stories, and I was fill in meteorologist. If something ever happens I always joke and say, “Look if all the meteorologists even though my station has 7 so this would never happen. But if all 7 got stuck somewhere I could put the weather cast on the air!”

Don’t be scared to start small. Don’t compare yourself to other people don’t sit there and say what market he’s in compared  to yours, what they’re doing, what they look like.  You are running your own race, you will get better as you get better.

[End of Q and A]

Monica Pearson

With a dazzling smile, caring eyes, and a heart for community, Monica Pearson has reigned supreme over Atlanta television news for nearly 40 years.

When Pearson packed her bags and left WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ky., she had no idea that her next steps would earn her a place in Atlanta history as an icon and pioneer.

That August night, in 1975, when Atlanta tuned into WSB-TV for the 6 o’clock newscast they were met with a surprise. Pearson—then known as Monica Kaufman— graced diverse living rooms all over the city, breaking barriers as the first female and the first African American anchoring the evening news, a spot typically reserved for white males.

The University of Louisville graduate received a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and English, intending to teach. It was not until she participated in a summer program, developed by Columbia University and the Ford Foundation to introduce minorities into predominantly white newsrooms, that Pearson’s interest in the industry was sparked. Upon completion of the program she returned to the Louisville Times where she initially worked as a newsroom clerk, but quickly advanced to become a reporter. Pearson even tried her hand in public relations, after being turned down for a broadcast job. However, it was that “no” that propelled her to take a modeling and charm course. She began preparing for a job that she did not yet have, but had faith it would soon come.

Those preparations for a life in front of the camera were soon to pay off.  In Louisville, one of her assignments in the charm-school course involved modeling in a restaurant, where she caught the attention of the news director for a rival television station. Pearson interviewed with CBS affiliate WHAS-TV, transitioning from print to her desired job in broadcast news in 1973.

Fast forward to the present: on July 25th, 2012, Pearson delivered her final broadcast after 37 years in the competitive Atlanta market. Looking directly into the camera Pearson addressed her final goodbye to the viewers.

“I am overwhelmed by your kindness,” she said. “It is you I will miss the most. Thank you for allowing me into your home.”

A viewer responded to Pearson’s retirement with these words, “She spoke to my class in the 7th grade, and I will never forget it. I am now 43 and sad to see her go. She is an Atlanta institution and deserves all the fanfare and more. She is a trailblazer and all native Atlantans should salute her. Growing up, if it was time for the news someone would say, “Turn on Monica.”

Currently, Pearson is a graduate student in Telecommunications at the University of Georgia and shows no signs of slowing down post-retirement. In 2012, the 30-time Emmy winner was honored by the National Association of Black Journalists with their “Legacy Award,” for an accomplished journalist who has broken barriers and blazed trails.

Pearson has also launched a Travel Blog, called A Toe in the Water, in addition to her new role as contributing editor at Southern Seasons Magazine with a recurring feature called “Monica Matters.”

Here at BWIB, we were honored to speak with a trailblazer who broke barriers with her excellent reporting skills, and the individual flair she brought to each newscast. Read more on how Pearson began her career, beat out Oprah for a position, and her success tips for other Black Women in Broadcast.

What made you decide to go into broadcast?

My momma says when I was little I would meet people and would ask them too many questions. I didn’t think of it as something I could do because when I looked on television there were not people like me on the air doing news. But I look back at my life and I know I was being prepared for it because I always like to ask questions.

When you first began reporting did you come in with any preconceived notions of any hardships you would possibly face being a black reporter? What encouraged you to keep going?

I started as a newspaper reporter and did not see any problems because there were a number of women and black reporters on staff.  When I moved to TV in Louisville, it was the news director who was a problem.  When a tornado hit, he made all the female reporters stay in.  He was afraid we might get hurt.  We complained but still were kept in.  A week after the storms and coverage diminished, we met with the news director and told him how he had kept us from doing our jobs by him being a chauvinist.  We reminded him we were reporters and were aware of the danger we would have been in but that was and is part of the job.

And remember I grew up in segregated times.  I did not go to my first integrated school until I was in the third grade and learned first hand what it was like to deal with prejudice face to face.

When I came to Atlanta, the calls were awful when I went on the air. No one was happy.  Some black people felt I needed to have a huge Afro while others thought I needed to have more long flowing hair and white folks just didn’t like a “n” on the air and me being a woman didn’t help either.  Luckily I had supportive management and my co-anchor John Pruitt was a jewel.  I joined a church and did volunteer work as soon as I got to Atlanta, so my validation came from other sources.  I am so glad Twitter, Facebook and blogs didn’t exist, because I may not have made it.  People were nasty but the more I spoke at schools, churches, civic groups, the more I was accepted, but it did not happen overnight.

What kept me going was simple: as the first woman and the first black to anchor the evening news daily in Atlanta, I understood if I didn’t do well, it would be a long time before another black or woman would get the chance.  Look how long it took to get a woman on network news.  After Barbara Walters failed as a nightly anchor, Katie Couric was many, many years after Walters.

How did you connect with your viewers?

I remember [WSB consultant] Dick Mallory talking to me at a coaching session and he made me tell a story, not read it. He taped it and showed it to me. The difference was amazing. When I let myself show through, the story was better. When I wrote the way I spoke, it became communication. He let me see it was all right to be me and to trust myself. It was like my momma said, and the grammar isn’t great, but it makes a great point. “If you is who you ain’t, then you ain’t who you is.” In other words, “To thine own self be true.”

What’s the importance of having mentors and being a mentor to others?

I didn’t have any mentors but when people ask advice, I don’t mind giving it. Why carry what I’ve learned to the grave and not share with someone else?  That would be selfish.  I believe in nurturing talent and encouraging people along their walk in their career. When [younger people] see things then you say, “Oh I can do that” and I know that’s true because I have had students over 40 years come up to me and say, “I want to do what you do. I wanna be just like and you” and I always say, “You can be better than me.” But they have that role model because in Atlanta every station has a woman, a woman of color, anchoring, but when I was growing up you didn’t have that.

What words of advice would you give to black women deciding to pursue a career in the industry?

Make sure you want to be a reporter, a storyteller.  Anchoring may be a wish, but few get to anchor. Be the best researcher, interviewer, writer, producer and presenter you can be.  Stay out of office gossip and politics.  Be involved in the community by speaking, serving on community boards, volunteering at school or churches, being a part of a community. And it also will be a great source for story ideas as well as sources for stories.  [Volunteering] keeps you humble, reminding you that everybody doesn’t have it as well as you do.  It is a way of giving back to a community to repay those people who helped you along the way.

[End of Q & A]

By: Brittany Vickers